Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 132 - Betty Boop and the Witch Queen

          Getting ready to abandon much of what I’ve worked for seems like despair. It’s only common sense, but it seems like despair. Reconcile that with your standard issue positive thinking clap-trap, and tell me what you come up with. I know. I’m not believing enough in myself and my potential. I’m not seeing the opportunities all around me. I’m fearful of bad results. I dwell on the negative, so I attract the negative. I read The Secret. I know the drill. The secret to The Secret is that you can get rich selling The Secret, or something like it, to pathetic losers like me—at least so long as they haven’t reached the point where despair seems like common sense. After that it’s too late.
* * * * *
          When Quentin moved me from the boat plant to the main plant and promised to consider me for a promotion, I hired a temp to take over the daily bookkeeping duties for the boat division. I called the temp agency we usually used, and they sent me a young woman who had a degree in accounting, but had been working as a waitress. She was anxious to get something that would utilize her education and training. She was a tall, gangly thing with wild hair and scary eyes. Her clothes were loud and vaguely inappropriate, but she talked a good game so I gave her a shot. Hiring her turned out to be one of those decisions that kept reaffirming my good judgment long after its initial utility had faded.
          We’ll call her Betty because Betty Boop was the nick-name she gave herself, and one that suited her well. She looked like Betty Boop would look if Betty Boop, the cartoon, had been tall with really big hair, or if Betty, not the cartoon, had been short with really short hair. Either way they could’ve passed for one another, and done it happily.
Betty was more than just a good accountant. She excelled at every task I gave her. She exceeded my expectations every day. When she finished her assignments, she came looking for more things to do. If I didn’t have anything else for her to work on, she would roam the halls looking for things to do for other people. She was fantastic.
          When I had first seen her, I was afraid that she wouldn’t really fit in our cliquish little enclave of South Alabama clerks. She wasn’t from the South herself. Her dress and mannerisms were foreign and exotic compared to the rest of the women in the office. The women I worked with wore slacks or quiet dresses and sensible heels. They came into the office on Monday mornings carrying pies and baked goods to share. They talked about their families. They got excited about fishing, camping, ‘Bama football, and the week-end’s events on the NASCAR circuit. They were unlike any other group of women I had ever worked with, but they were as like one another as peas in a pod. Betty—single, flashy, flirty, stiletto-heeled, and hip—stuck out like, well, Betty Boop in a crowd of matrons.
          Amazingly, everyone took to Betty right away. They all loved her like she had been born among them and raised up with them. She couldn’t have got on better with that group if she had been a barefoot, backwoods, gator-snatchin’ swamp cracker. They all came to me at one time or another to tell me how much they liked Betty and how much they enjoyed working with her. Betty somehow came into a great working environment where nearly everyone got along really well, and made it even better. I couldn’t have been happier.
          I determined to make Betty a permanent employee. The temp agency was getting a goodly percentage of the hourly amount we were paying for her services. She was still working the waitress job nights to make ends meet. She wasn’t getting any benefits to speak of. I was going to need someone in the slot where I had her if I got promoted, and I knew I could find something useful for her to do even if I didn’t. If I didn’t make her permanent, she would take the first opportunity that came along. I didn’t want to risk losing her.
I went to Quentin to clear my preference with him. He was agreeable. We even discussed what salary to offer her, and he agreed to that too. I went to Betty and made her an offer. She was ecstatic. I went to HR and initiated the paperwork. Among other things I needed Quentin to sign a personnel requisition, a slam dunk as he had already agreed to everything I’d asked.
That’s what I remembered anyway. It had only been two days. Quentin’s memory suddenly wasn’t so good. He couldn’t remember what he’d agreed to just two days before. He looked at me like I was out of my mind when I put the requisition on his desk for him to sign.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“I’m making Betty permanent,” I said. “We talked about it two days ago. You said it was okay.”
“Why are we doing this?”
“It’s on the req. We already talked about it. You agreed.”
“That doesn’t sound right.”
“I already made her an offer.”
“That’s not my problem. You should have gotten an authorization first.”
“I did,” I protested.
“Then how come this isn’t signed? This is your authorization. Clearly you don’t have it signed.”
I was stunned. There was nothing I could do at that point, short of calling him a liar, that was going to give me any satisfaction. I don’t know what happened in Quentin’s brain between the time he said okay and the time he decided I was trying to put one over on him. He never actually acknowledged our previous conversation on the matter, so I’ll never know if some synapse misfired and wiped the exchange out of his memory or if he was just denying me an honest process because something he didn’t want to own up to had changed his mind. I did speculate on this some.
It occurred to me that perhaps Marjorie wasn’t as happy with Betty as the rest of the women in the office. Marjorie might have felt a little threatened. She was prettier than Betty, and dressed a lot better, but Betty had enough presence and personality for three Marjories. Betty was a force, and it would have been natural for Marjorie to feel diminished by her proximity. Marjorie could easily have persuaded Quentin that his best interests lie in maintaining her status as queen of the realm and fairest of them all.
Another possibility was that Rod had objected when Quentin told him what I had proposed. Rod would have objected to anything that wasn’t his idea, no matter how good an idea it may have been. He would have been okay, of course, if it had been Quentin’s idea, but it wasn’t. It was mine. I wasn’t authorized good ideas in Rod’s world. Having a good idea for me would have been overstepping my bounds. Rod would have found a way to put the kibosh on any ideas that I got past Quentin. This wouldn’t have been as easy for him as squashing them before Quentin heard them, but still within Rod’s range. His insistence that everything headed to Quentin’s office be funneled through him was just Rod’s way of making his life easier. He wouldn’t have to talk Quentin out of a good idea if he killed it before it ever got into Quentin’s head. Either that or Rod could make it his own and bank the credit. I know I’m only speculating here, but, honest to God, I love office politics.
I gave Betty the bad news right away. I didn’t want her doing something celebratory like buying a new outfit or something only to find out too late that her fortunes had improved not at all. I hated telling her. I hated dashing her dreams. She had been so excited when I made her the offer, as had all the other women in the office when they heard about it. I knew I was going to have to be the goat. If I made it Quentin’s fault, there would eventually be hell to pay. Betty was disappointed, but she took it like a trooper…until the next day that is, when she gave me four days notice.
  

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